Authors: Grace E. Pulliam
By Grace E. Pulliam
Copyright © 2015 by Grace E. Pulliam
Cover Illustration Copyright © 2015 by Damonza
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
as Mr. Hemming’s one, disparaging eye left the private booth and surveyed the dimly lit Red Mule Bar, scanning jolly faces of patrons, chatting merrily amongst themselves, cracking open peanuts and discarding the shells on the floor. The one-eyed man took a long sip of lager after the head had almost completely fizzled away. He asked George to meet him at the bar a multitude of times, which George previously dodged. The attempts started with letters, which, when ignored, transformed into lengthy voicemails at George’s office and late night calls at home. Finally, Mr. Hemming’s insistence on speaking with George escalated to in-person contact.
The problem wasn’t that George didn’t want to speak with Mr. Hemming; in fact, the truth was quite the opposite. Mr. Hemming’s attempts weren’t the first time a stranger requested George’s presence. Long ago, George’s father warned him of the consequences of his ancestry, dealing with seedy characters who were out to deceive. The last name, Fox, could go undetected in normal society, but held a great deal of influence amongst those who dealt in the occult. The dark stranger across from him was not unfamiliar. George heard whispers of a scarred face who walked the earth as a man, but was able to shift into the Cù Sìth beast at whim. George’s father described Mr. Hemming as
untouched by time, unharmed by death, unfazed by morals.
George was intrigued and had been from the very beginning.
The timing was all wrong, though. George swallowed a mouthful of rich ale and lit a cigarette, taking a nice, long drag of nicotine as he studied Mr. Hemming. George didn’t feel right leaving Jamie-Lynn in the hospital for him to deal with such unsavory business. His girlfriend was on bed rest, under constant monitoring, until their baby arrived. When she announced she was with child, Jamie-Lynn demanded that George stop dabbling into his family history. He tried his best to acclimate himself to normal living—no sacred texts, lore, or any hint of magic—he was simply
George Fox: accountant,
and soon to be,
George Fox: father
, and, hopefully in the near future,
George Fox: husband
. Jamie-Lynn was scheduled to be induced in two days time, and they’d welcome their first child into the world, together. George was dozing off in the recliner next to Jamie-Lynn’s bed when he heard a deep voice outside of the room, barely audible over the soft beeping of the machines, asking the nurse for a “Mr. Fox.” George knew the time had come to see what Mr. Hemming wanted.
A peculiar man, Mr. Hemming had been handsome at a point in his life, but on one half of his face, his features were scarred and jagged where they were once angular and smooth. An eyeball was missing from the socket on the scarred half. Compared to George’s average build, Mr. Hemming stood tall, his shoulders broad and intimidating, with ripples of subdued muscle beneath his freshly pressed shirt. At the beginning or in the middle of most sentences, Mr. Hemming cleared his throat, forcing words from his mouth. He tried his best to hide the scarred side of his face, never looking George straight on, an action which George assumed was out of habit.
“Hmph…Some days… some days I feel like I’m still there,” Mr. Hemming sighed. The one-eyed man hunched his shoulders, hovering over his brew. He busied himself by stroking his long fingers around the rim of the glass. “One night, we were forced from our beds and stuffed into a crowded train car, filled with other confused families. The SS soldiers told us we were going to a work camp, where there would be schools for the children and housing for all. Mother held our hands tightly and placed us under her cloak on the ride to Dachau. There was a chill in the air that night. We were given no time to grab our belongings. When we arrived, it couldn’t have been later than 5 a.m. The morning sun had yet to show itself. Mother clung to us as we made our way through the commotion. The officers needed to count us, to mark us. A tall SS soldier remained silent as my mother barked questions at him. ‘What is this place?’ she yelled, over and over. The officer’s face was devoid of any emotion. His eyes moved down from her frantic face, to her bosom, then fell upon my sister and I.”
“’Twins?’ he inquired.”
“’Yes, yes. This is good?’ she responded, her voice desperate. The man gave a quick nod and grasped my sister and me by the wrists, pulling us away from Mother.”
“’Zwillinge! Zwillinge!’ the officer shouted, parting the crowd like the Red Sea. We were not being hauled off to Dachau. We were being led back to the train, to be carted to Auschwitz. A scream fell on my ears. Helen and I exchanged looks from the train car. We knew that voice. The same SS man was beating my mother with a club as she tried to force her way to our car. Her face was horrified…defeated. This was the last time I saw her.”
Mr. Hemming sucked in a deep breath. As he spoke, he never looked directly at George, always at his beer or his hands. “The first day began as the sun rose. We were taken to a somewhat cleaner part of the camp. They put me and Helen in a room and ordered us to undress. It was humiliating. They recorded our measurements, studied our similarities, our differences, and drew blood. The doctors couldn’t find a good vein on Helen, so they always had to draw it from her neck. I yelled at them not to hurt her, not to harm my sister. They laughed and separated us at night. Each day, it was the same. Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t.”
“After our routine blood draw on a particularly sunny day, they allowed us to play football in the courtyard. We played against an entire team of twins. All of us were so desperate for fresh air. We were all very young. There were some kids as young as four and as old as seventeen. We laughed together and forgot we were in hell. Dr. Mengele would watch us play, passing out candies at the end of the game. He showed an interest in me and Helen.”
“’How incredibly unremarkable the two of you are. Brown eyes and hair,’ he’d say, pinching Helen’s nose playfully. All of the kids seemed to like him. They weren’t scared of him, even though he was a terrible man. All of us were desperate for a kind touch.”
“The following day, after our blood draw, Dr. Mengele ordered me and Helen to lay flat on the examination table, where we were strapped into place to keep from getting up. He produced two vials of blue liquid and demanded that we hold still. Helen went first; she was the older twin and he enjoyed her more than me. He stuck the needle into her left iris and deposited the contents into her eye. She screamed and screamed until she passed out, lifeless. I thought she was dead. I thought I’d never see my sister again. I tried reaching out for her. ‘Helen! Helen! Wake up!’ I heard my voice like it was a stranger’s. I hardly felt the needle enter my own eye. I didn’t lose consciousness like Helen. But I wish I had. The room filled with a putrid, burning odor—almost as bad as when the ovens were on. I felt nothing until the skin around my eye started to burn, as though they had poured acid into the socket. The remnants of my eye slugged down the back of my throat and nose. In a panic, I swallowed a bit through my sobs. I didn’t care. I thought my sister was dead. She was all I had left. Half of my world was black from that day.”
“She wasn’t dead of course, but I think the SS physicians took great pleasure in our agony. Most days, I only saw a glimpse of Helen. As the days went on, talk of liberation echoed through the lice-ridden corridors. Whispers of hope... The SS knew their reign was coming to a close. The officers, the physicians…they started to get antsy. Dr. Mengele was becoming more unhinged each time I had the displeasure of seeing him. Gypsy twins and my friends, Ofin and Yosef, who I shared much gossip with…I didn’t see them for several weeks. When I inquired about them, a guard told me that one of the ‘treatments’ had left Ofin paralyzed. He had been thrown into the ovens, alive. I never found out what happened to Yosef, but I fear he fared no better.”
Mr. Hemming frowned, and his jaw tensed. George could barely see the man’s outline in the dim lighting. “Conditions worsened within Auschwitz. Our cells became more crowded, more rampant with illness. Brothers and sisters fought each other for scraps of bread, sips of water. We were dirty and cold. I had outgrown my shoes over the course of the year—my toe peeked out from the worn leather. On a particularly cold and drafty night, a pair of older brothers lay in the bunk above me…Illness or malnutrition or…one might never know…had taken one brother on that night. I heard the remaining one crying softly above, shaking his twin. The rattling of boards with every sob was my signal. It was my opportunity. I tried to be as subtle as possible, as not to draw attention to myself. We salvaged the belongings of the dead, otherwise they would be burned with the body. I didn’t want to compete with anyone else for what I needed. I slipped the dead brother’s boots off while he held his twin to him, murmuring a prayer of some sort. I don’t know. It was Yiddish. When I slipped the shoes on my feet, they were still warm on the inside.”
Mr. Hemming grabbed a peanut in his hand, squeezing the shell with his long fingers until it yielded with a satisfying crunch. “That night, I prayed for death. Not just for me, but for Helen, too. I saw death as our only escape…I didn’t have to wait long for that wish to come true,” he laughed bitterly. “The following morning was like a daydream. Helen and I were ushered into the operating room. She reached out for my hand—I suspect because she saw me trembling. She was always so much braver than me. We’d get into trouble at home, and when Father would question us, Helen took the blame. She’d wink at me after dinner and tell me that I had to give her my dessert as payment, but there was never any follow-through on my end,” He chuckled but sadness overtook his shadowed features.
“They strapped us to the tables as they had done before, only Helen was to my right. I panicked, because I could no longer see her.”
“’The infection has spread since Monday,’ one of the physicians studied me from above, scribbling something down on a piece of paper. No comfort could be found in his voice, only a clinical observance. He waved Dr. Mengele over. They both rubbed their chins and discussed my condition.”
“’Patient 189666 will be deceased by day’s end. We’ll keep him and patient 189667 for further study after the injections have been administered.’ I didn’t fully comprehend what he had said. I couldn’t even look upon his face—I could only see the accompanying doctor nod and produce a similar vial from days prior. I heard Helen struggling against her restraints. She yelled out for me. I reached out for her…then I felt the needle plunge into my chest, and the world was black.”
Mr. Hemming’s fists tightened and his head shook. When he didn’t continue, George spoke up, his voice shaky. “And then what happened? How did you escape?”
“We never escaped. The injection had an unexpected effect on our bodies. I would kill to know what was in that vial. I awoke sometime later in a strange place, wedged between cold, lifeless bodies. The smell of burning hair and flesh filled the air. We were being stacked like bales of hay in a mass grave, awaiting the ovens. I looked around for Helen, careful to not make any quick movements, as there were guards and other prisoners afoot. I didn’t have to look far. She was wedged underneath an elderly woman who was so malnourished, her ribs protruded further than her breasts. Under her was a child with flea bites and welts all over his body. Helen was awake, too. I couldn’t believe it.”
“’We wait ‘til dark,’ Helen whispered after a prisoner walked by with a wheelbarrow of bodies. So we waited. It was the longest couple of hours of my entire life. The smell alone was putrid enough to make a trash man wretch. As soon as the sun went down, we made our way to the fence,” Mr. Hemming sighed, taking another sip of lager. “But our plan was flawed. We hadn’t been to this area of Auschwitz. We had no idea that there were so many guard towers or eyes watching. As we crawled under the fence, I heard raised voices followed by gunshots. Bullets whizzed past our heads as we struggled to hurry under the barbed wire. Unlike the needle hours before, I felt the bullet enter my chest as I hit the ground with a thud. Helen should’ve kept running, but she attempted to drag me into the woods. She fell next to me as she was struck. When I regained consciousness, I was running through the woods—hmph. But I was not the same. I was not a child anymore.”
Mr. Hemming gulped down the rest of his beer, motioning the bartender for a second round.
`“I’m sorry that happened to you,” George’s voice was sullen, genuine. “But did you ask me to meet you here to tell me your story? Or was there something else you wanted?” George asked, playing with his coaster.
Most of the time, when George was requested to meet with those who were unusual, to say the least, they always wanted something. Since George was not gifted with the magical ability of his ancestors, all he had to offer was knowledge, and usually, George’s answers were enough.
“Mhm, I—hmph—need you to understand. I must finish,” Mr. Hemming snapped, and George drew back when he heard the edge in the young gentleman’s voice. “I am under the impression you are aware of my…affliction,” George nodded, knowing Mr. Hemming referred to his shape shifting ability. “Helen and I, we—we only age in our second…form. Immortality has been wasted on us,” Mr. Hemming gulped. “We sought out a witch who could take away the curse, so we could be free of this life...But we were unsuccessful with her, too. However, the witch gave us one name… Fox.”
George’s brow shot up, and he shook his head, “I’ve never been able to perform magic. I’m simply a continuation of the bloodline. Nothing more. She gave you a dead-end. She probably meant—”
“The witch wasn’t talking about you, George,” Mr. Hemming interrupted, his voice grim. “She was talking about your daughter.”
The one-eyed man studied George as acknowledgement registered across his face. Mr. Hemming expected this reaction from George—a mixture of surprise and silence trailed closely by denial.
“No, it’s…it’s impossible. Legend states that all of the Fox’s are men,” George started, trying to work out the details in his mind. His great, great grandfather served as the last Fox. George was relieved that the family condition had skipped him. Tales of Fox’s were filled with violence, greed, and eventually, madness. There was something about having a surplus of power that drove all of the Fox’s insane.